Reflections on San Francisco 49ers Week 14 Win Over Denver Broncos

SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 09: Trent Taylor #81 of the San Francisco 49ers celebrates a catch and first-down against the Denver Broncos at Levi's Stadium on December 9, 2018 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

The San Francisco 49ers improved to 3-10 on the season by defeating the Denver Broncos 20-14 in their Week 14 matchup. This victory for the 49ers might have negative implications in their quest for the number one overall pick, but it’s hard to ever be disappointed with a win.

Analyzing the San Francisco 49ers Week 14 Win

Kittle Has Huge First Half

The 49ers had a gigantic first-half performance that was led by George Kittle, who caught seven passes for 210 yards and a touchdown. Kittle did all his damage in the first half, as the Broncos were able to hold him without a catch in the second half. It was the third most yards by a tight end in a game in league history, and Kittle also set a team record for most yards by a tight end over the course of a season. With three games remaining, Kittle has plenty of time to further extend that record that was previously held by Vernon Davis.

Kittle had an 85-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter that really showed off his breakaway speed when he gets the ball in space. Nick Mullens had 332 yards passing that game, and Kittle had 210 of those yards. Dante Pettis added 49 receiving yards on three catches, including a one-yard touchdown reception that was ultimately the difference in this game.

Kittle and Pettis combined for 259 yards of the 332 yards Mullens threw for. Mullens finished 20/33 for 10.1 yards per pass, two touchdowns, one interception, and a 102.1 passer rating. Basically, the 49ers dominated the first half to get out in front, while the Broncos dominated the second half but came up just short in their comeback attempt.

Broncos Take Aggressive Strategy in Second Half

Vance Joseph took an interesting approach in trying to tailor a Broncos comeback, opting to go for it on fourth down numerous times in field goal range. Overall they went five for seven on their fourth down conversions, and while there was a crucial miss that might have altered the final outcome of this game, the approach did benefit the Broncos on a later drive.

The drive where the strategy backfired began when Darian Stewart dove to pick off a pass that was dropped by Trent Taylor on a short crossing route. The Broncos began that drive on their own 41-yard line, and a 23-yard run by Royce Freeman on second and three from their 48-yard line moved the Broncos into field goal range. The Broncos decided to go for it on fourth down instead of kicking what would have been a 40-yard field and ended up turning the ball over on downs.

Had they made that 40-yard field goal, it would have been a 20-10 game with 8:37 left, and the 49ers have certainly had their issues closing out games this season. Instead, the Broncos gave the ball back to the 49ers without cutting into the lead at all and the game still at 20-7 with 8:37 left.

The 49ers still looked like they were characteristically trying to allow for the comeback, though, as they went three and out on the next offensive drive. Pettis dropped a pass on third down that would have resulted in a first down, and only 1:42 came off the clock as the Broncos got the ball again.

Obviously, the situation influenced the play calls, so it’s impossible to know if the 49ers still would have gone three and out if the Broncos had taken the field goal. However, the 49ers started that drive on their own 21-yard line, which is around where they would have started had the Broncos kicked off to them after the field goal. Bradley Pinion would have punted from about the same place if the Broncos defense would have still held the 49ers offense to a three and out.

The Broncos offense would have ultimately started their drive around the same place, but down by just 10 instead of 14 with 6:40 remaining in the game. The aggressive strategy going for it on fourth down paid off for the Broncos on that next drive, though, as it was capped off with an eventual one-yard touchdown catch by DaeSean Hamilton.

It was a 20-14 game with 3:51 remaining and the 49ers on offense, but it could have been a 20-17 game had the Broncos taken the field goal earlier. It didn’t matter in the end, though, as Pettis redeemed himself from his earlier third down drop to catch a third down pass for 31-yards to keep the drive alive.

The game was essentially iced when Taylor caught a third-down pass to earn a first down and get the clock to the two-minute warning. The 49ers went just 4-13 on third down conversions but saved two of those conversions for the drive that pretty much sealed the deal for them.

It’s never easy for the 49ers, as they mistimed their kneel-downs to give the Broncos the ball back with four seconds left and a chance to win the game. Nothing disastrous happened, though, and the 49ers were able to overcome a largely ineffective second half to get their third win of the season.

49ers Defense Contains Broncos Offense

The 49ers defense did a really good job of limiting the Broncos offense, holding them to just 3.9 yards per play. Case Keenum was hit nine times by the 49ers pass rush and finished 24/42 for 186 yards, a touchdown, no interceptions, and a 76.1 passer rating. Tim Patrick and Hamilton both had seven catches for the Broncos. Patrick finished with 85 receiving yards and Hamilton finished with 47 receiving yards.

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